I Praise My Mother, the House Lover,
at Last

who came through the sudden death of my stepfather
            and the fire from the wood stove, ready
            to love the house as she never had before;

who went to the dumpster after the workmen left to carry
           the blistered chairs, and the books, swollen
           by fire hoses, and the childhood dresses of her grown
           daughter – all back to the house where they belonged;

who carefully saved each newspaper and magazine
           and circular and unopened bill addressed to it;

who walked through the stacks of them, and the bags
           of clothes and empty cans, and the disused lamps
           and flowerpots, armed only with her cane;

who kept her door closed to anyone who didn’t understand
           her daily, thoughtful housekeeping, speaking in a firm
           voice to neighbors, home-health nurses, tax assessors,
           and me through the screen of her bathroom window;

who imagined a family to bring into the house, handymen
           just like her husband, and a gardener, more like
           her daughter, she said, than her real daughter;

who never noticed the work left undone as she wandered
           with them in the yard, past the collapsing fence,
           and the buckling outbuildings, and the gardens
           where morning glories and vetch bloomed;

who, loving the house with her whole mind, did not see how
           bereft it looked with its cracked walk and dipping roof;

who ignored the wishes of the doctors in acute care
           and returned to live among the pathways inside
           her house just as it was, her greatest wish;

who called for it from her bed in her small, shared room
           at the nursing home with a longing so deep, I felt
           the blow of each stroke that undid her love for it.

Follow McNair’s thinking about this poem through his revisions of it. (Line changes are highlighted in yellow; revised line breaks are indicated by yellow verticals.)